Happy Tears is an overwrought saga dealing with two sisters who return home to tend to their ailing father. The girls have their suspicions, however, that he might not be as sick as he lets on. Tensions flare and old domestic dynamics rise to the fore as Teeth director Mitchell Lichtenstein confronts another dysfunctional family. The pairing of Demi Moore and Posey Parker as the sisters and Rip Torn as the irascible dad are the main attractions for a title with limited appeal.
Sometimes dysfunctional families are better kept for personal consumption rather than being unleashed on the world at large. Filmmakers of late seem to be obsessed by them and audiences are paying the price. Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of pop art pioneer Roy Lichtenstein, is no exception to this trend. Here he gathers together two diverse sisters, played with oodles of quirky conviction by Demi Moore (Laura) and Parker Posey (Jayne), who go back to their parents’ house to help their septuagenarian father. Veteran Rip Torn is in fine, flailing form as the father and tries to make the most of an unsympathetic character.
Their return home forces them to come to terms with aspects of their childhood and their far-from-perfect family life. Laura is convinced that their father, Joe, now requires full-time care, but Jayne doesn’t think things are that bad yet. Jayne’s talent for avoiding reality intensifies Laura’s desire to make her sister face facts.
Joe is unimpressed by his daughters’ concern. He is quite content to carry on playing the blues on his beloved guitar. He is a bit of a card and even has a girlfriend, Shelly (Ellen Barkin, sparking on all cylinders).
As Joe’s growing senility and incipient dementia become more obvious it threatens to throw off all interpersonal relationships within the family. The sisters also have their hands full with their own problematic lives and before long subliminal tensions begin to come rising inexorably to the surface.
Lichtenstein tries to examine maternal and paternal psychological issues against the background of the family’s daily routine, but while we feel for the characters to a degree it is never enough to sustain a whole film. By the end of it we’re glad to be rid of them.
It’s not the fault of the actors who all rally to the occasion on all counts. The culprit is the limp script, which may have had some resonances with the director’s own background.
Happy Tears is a definite disappointment after Lichtenstein’s brio debut with Teeth, but now that this is out of his system the only way forward is up.
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Cast: Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Rip Torn and Ellen Barkin
Director/Screenwriter: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Producers: Joyce Pierpoline
Rating: R for language, drug use, and some sexual content including brief nudity.
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: February 19 ltd.